main = print(“Hello World”)

I’ve been wanting to blog here for years, but I always wound up being crushed by schoolwork or distracted by personal life. Eventually I got sick of perpetually putting it off, and forced myself to apply. I’d figure out a way to make it work.

And, as you can see, I’m now blogging here!

And up to my eyeballs in schoolwork.

And with more demands on my free time than ever before.

But! I have a plan.

See, the nice thing about being a slightly-paranoid Computer Scientist is that you tend to keep a low profile. My previous blogging isn’t well known, and the rest of my back catalog ranges from “seen by five people” to “never been shared publicly.” I can easily pad this space with old material until I can come up for air. This is especially perfect, because while my contemporary writing is all about the replication crisis and angrily shouting at fools, my older work was more about atheist apologetics. I have a decently-sized book that I gave up on writing, all about the subject, and it led me to a set of arguments that I haven’t seen anyone else develop. That is book-worthy, but there’s no harm in workshopping it until I can properly put fingers to keyboard.

In the meantime, I should also get cracking at a comment policy. Years of lurking in comment threads have left me with… opinions on the matter. That’s for a future post, though.

I suppose some of you are wondering about the name. Funny, despite the whole “wanting to blog” thing I’ve never been able to decide on a proper blog name. I’ve held on to a catchy subtitle for years (“/dev/random, unless I make a hash of it”), but a title? No clue, no idea, nothing ever came to mind. Forced to come up with one at long last, I did what came naturally.

> while :; do echo `egrep 'te$' /usr/share/dict/words | perl -e 'rand($.)<1 and ($line=$_)while<>;print$line'` \
     `perl -e 'rand($.)<1 and ($line=$_)while<>;print$line' /usr/share/dict/words` ; done | less

xanthosiderite koa
Brooklynite lull
adeste reclamatory
bipunctate abevacuation
disrelate seewee
Epirote Cobden
hemisaprophyte parcel-guilty
camote danda
catastate Westphalian
ingurgitate ephelis
sommite soilures
inseminate rabies
pianoforte stabbed
preconstitute tanistry
Bonaparte intermodification
decapitate philohellenian
Marette Sharona
swinecote prefictional
miaskite Egbert
subprofessorate eosphorite
protectorate soogan
portmanmote morosities
indicolite saiyids
Marguerite hoidening
repromulgate pandemoniacal
barytocelestite alloxy
umbraculate Post-devonian
desecate white-rumped
landgate twice-canvassed
killinite pyrogallate
cycadophyte Englishable
lautarite buffoons
bipunctate tar
merocerite pencels
echelette Borak
odorate overcultivated
Parbate Perrins
amphodelite lethalize
hesperidate Lemosi
zonociliate implosively
Jacquette reimbushment
tricussate Reisinger
alunite high-hatty
archeocyte unimpatiently
montroydite roband
orcanette panstereorama
julienite unorchestrated
fulminurate pro-Sweden
Bathinette Piraeus
cassate unfeigning
lowigite dolos
lyddite intersomnial
delate hepatised
alienigenate perscribe
emporte zoroastra
hemimorphite off-put
hypoantimonate ambrosia
nonconfederate hotfoot
exonerate nonfuturition
reprobate spreadsheet

The algorithm hath spoken!

Ignorance and Social Justice

“Why are you a feminist?”

Because it lets me sleep at night. Think about it: let’s say it’s true that over half the human population is burdened with a systematic disadvantage compared to the rest. Having learned of that, can you honestly shrug your shoulders and ignore the problem? I certainly can’t, so I’ll do what little I can to correct this injustice.

You may not agree, which is fine. But the corrolary of this view is that you cannot be opposed to feminism without also misunderstanding it. This sets up a prediction we can test: people who oppose feminism and other forms of social justice must be ignorant of it, must invoke straw-people, and must be resistant to learning or understanding it, if my stance has some truth to it.

The evidence suggests it has more than a little.

For instance, after offering to debate Martin Hughes, TJ Kirk cowardly backed out. Stephanie Zvan has an excellent blog post up pointing out that this is a common theme: people opposed to social justice aren’t keen on actually debating the subject.

That’s the real function of “You don’t want to debate” in this context. It isn’t to get you to debate. It’s there to say there’s something wrong with you. That’s why the offer disappears once you drag the argument into the reality of terms and conditions and making sure no one profits from the debate. It wasn’t real to begin with.

To do well in a debate, you really have to know the other side in depth. If you do that homework, though, you might learn the other side’s arguments are correct. So if you are hoping to sleep well at night, you don’t debates. I popped into the comment section to point out an exception to this:

Some of the hardcore haters would disagree, and say they’re perfectly fine with a debate. They have a very peculiar definition of “debate” in mind, though, where both sides shout slogans into the night without critically appraising their merits. It’s an extension of what I’ve called the “treadmill of lies:” By endlessly cycling from myth to lie, they avoid having to consider any one in detail and thus can convince themselves they’re just a bunch of skeptical satirists.

When this actually happens during a debate, we call it a “Gish Gallop.” This technique is a big problem with traditional, in-person debates, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that TJ Kirk was pushing for this format instead of a more leisurely exchange of blog posts. He knew he had nothing but slogans against Hughes’ arguments, and he knew those wouldn’t convince anyone but those already convinced. Unless there was some sort of reward involved, like cash or a raised profile, there was no point in “debating” Hughes.

I go into a little more detail on the treadmill here. But as luck would have it, this data point was followed by yet another. Possibly in response to the controversy kicked off by Kirk, a number of atheist YouTubers joined with him to fire back a challenge: “QUESTIONS WHITE MEN HAVE FOR SJWs!

Others in the atheo/skeptic community have been responding back, in between bouts of muffled laughter and obvious eyerolls. I’ll add my two cents at some point, but for now I’d like to point out a common theme in the questions.

3. Do you want women to be equal or do you want women to be a protected class? You can’t have both.

Protected class: “A group of people with a common characteristic who are legally protected from employment discrimination on the basis of that characteristic. Protected classes are created by both federal and state law. … Federal protected classes include: Race. Color. Religion or creed. National origin or ancestry. Sex.

4. What are you afraid will happen when you leave your “safe space”?

A Safe Space is a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age, or physical or mental ability.

5. How can you possibly justify the idea that it’s somehow racist to disagree with black lives matter?

When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.  We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.

6. Are you aware the present is not the past? Are you familiar with the concept of linear time? Because you seem incredibly comfortable traveling back through time by talking about how bad things were for women, or black people, or whomever. And then by using some form of SJW magic, you then claim or imply that those problems in the past exist today. Are you aware that this trick that you’re doing is not working? Why do you think that would work?

Results: In the United States, an estimated 19.3% of women and 1.7% of men have been raped during their lifetimes; an estimated 1.6% of women reported that they were raped in the 12 months preceding the survey. The case count for men reporting rape in the preceding 12 months was too small to produce a statistically reliable prevalence estimate. An estimated 43.9% of women and 23.4% of men experienced other forms of sexual violence during their lifetimes, including being made to penetrate, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences. The percentages of women and men who experienced these other forms of sexual violence victimization in the 12 months preceding the survey were an estimated 5.5% and 5.1%, respectively.

8. Did you know there are 13% more women in college right now than men? So if the whole goal of feminism is “equality,” shouldn’t we have some men-only scholarships in order to equal everything out?

The strength of this unconscious bias is quite astonishing – even for a relatively objective measure such as promptness, students rated a “female” professor 3.55 out of 5 and a “male” professor 4.35, despite the fact that they handed work back at the same time.

The implications are serious. In the competitive world of academia, student evaluations are often used as a tool in the process of hiring and promotion. That the evaluations may be biased against female professors is particularly problematic in light of existing gender imbalance, particularly at the highest echelons of academia. According to the American Association of University Professors, in 2012, 62% of men in academia in the US were tenured compared to only 44% of women, while women were far more likely to be in non-tenure track positions than men (32% of women in academia compared to just 19% of men).

When there are answers to the questions those YouTubers fired off, it only takes a few minutes of Googling to get an answer. Want scientific studies? They’ve been done by the hundreds, on nearly all the topics pushed by “social justice warriors.” Decades of research have been done, untold thousands of words have been spilled, and yet these people opposed to social justice are completely ignorant of it all. Had they put in the time to educate themselves, like some others have, they’d become social justice warriors too.

But as Zvan would have predicted, some of those questions aren’t actually questions.

7. Why do you think that you can spend your entire life in a state of perpetual emotional immaturity? Do you actually imagine that you’ll be able to stretch out your adolescence for your entire existence?

10. What do you hope to gain by bringing back racial segregation?

12. Why do you think every cis white male is born racist?

14. Would you rather be right, or popular? It seems like your primary objective is to score social points and get public validation.

These questions were never meant to be answered, they’re just empty talking points that form the treadmill’s belt. They’re meant to protect you from educating yourself, from breaking the wall of ignorance.

Because you might not sleep well, once you find out what’s on the other side.

Destruction of Justice

I’ve written about the “rape kit backlog” before; as a quirk summary, police departments are letting rape kits languish for decades, despite how easy they are to process and how effective they are at securing convictions.

Testing by Cleveland-area prosecutors linked more than 200 alleged serial rapists to 600 assaults. Statewide, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s effort to collect and test sexual assault kits has resulted in at least 2,285 CODIS hits so far.

In Houston, analysis of about 6,600 untested rape kits resulted in about 850 matches, 29 prosecutions and six convictions.

And, since the Colorado Bureau of Investigation began requiring police statewide to submit sexual assault kits for testing last year, more than 150 matches have been found.

But back then, I never thought of the dark side of the rape test backlog.

As scrutiny of disregarded rape kits mounted, a portrait of a more difficult to tally sort emerged – rape kits police destroyed. As with the rape kit backlog, there is no national tally of the kits police destroyed. But increasingly, local media have published reports of police destroying rape kits in states as disparate as Utah, Kentucky and Colorado. […]

In 2013, in Aurora, Colorado, police department workers derailed a prosecution when they destroyed a rape kit from a 2009 assault. The error was discovered when a detective got a hit on an offender DNA profile, went to pick up the rape kit and was told it no longer existed. Shortly thereafter, police stopped all evidence destruction while they investigated, and found workers destroyed evidence in 48 rape cases between 2011 and 2013.

In Salt Lake City, 222 of the 942 kits collected between 2004 and 2014 were destroyed. Of those, just 59 were tested and went to court.

In Hamilton County, Tennessee, sheriff’s employees destroyed rape kits with marijuana and cocaine from drug busts, angering the local prosecutor who said he wasn’t consulted.

In Kentucky, the state auditor discovered some police departments routinely destroyed rape kits after a year, even though the state had no statute of limitations for rape. The perpetrators could have been prosecuted as long as they were alive.

There was so little value placed on those kits, despite their track record of landing convictions, that the experts responsible for handling them saw no problem in their casual destruction. Criminals are allowed to walk freely, because the police bought into common myths about sexual assault.

It’s one more slice of rape culture.

A Slice of Rape Culture

There’s only so much you can cover in an hour. Early drafts of my lecture on sexual assault included a rant on rape kit testing, and it’s not hard to see why.

… police departments have been found to destroy records and ignore or mishandle evidence, which leads not only to undercounting but dismissal of cases. Many of the jurisdictions showing consistent undercounting are also, unsurprisingly, those with rape kit backlogs (there are more than 400,000 untested kits in the United States). Many cities and states don’t even keep accurate track of the number of rape exams or of kits languishing, expired or in storerooms—but when they do, the numbers improve. The arrest rate for sex assault in New York City went from 40 percent to 70 percent after the city successfully processed an estimated 17,000 kits in the early 2000s. However, it is only in the past year, after embarrassing and critical news coverage, that most departments have begun to process backlogs. After being publicly shamed for having abandoned more than 11,000 rape kits, the Michigan State Police began testing them, identifying 100 serial rapists as a result.

There’s some follow-up on that last item.

In Michigan, the Detroit kits make up the majority of those awaiting testing. To date, the largest backlog by far remains in Wayne County, where 10,000 of the 11,341 kits found in 2009 have been tested or are in the process of being tested. As of July 10, Detroit’s kit-testing initiative identified 2,478 suspects — including 456 serial rapists identified as of June 30 — and 20 convictions have been secured.

While it’s great to see justice served, take a step back and think about this. This one county managed to process 10,000 rape kits within a year or two; that means they’re quick to process. Those kits identified serial criminals and even in that short span generated 20 convictions; that means they are invaluable tools of law enforcement, an easy way to score convictions, keep the streets safe, and generate some good publicity.

But not only was this goldmine left to rot and grow since the 1980’s, it was discovered in 2009; in other words, even when they were aware of these kits and knew how valuable they were, they waited five years until they were embarrassed into action by the press.

This is one aspect of rape culture: the systematic devaluation of sexual assault victims, to the point that we blind ourselves to widespread injustice.

“This is not just an issue impacting Detroit or Wayne County,” [Shanon Banner, Michigan State Police manager of public affairs] said. “Everyone should care.”

[HJH 2015-07-19] USA Today was one of the first to break this story, and they have a follow-up too.

Testing by Cleveland-area prosecutors linked more than 200 alleged serial rapists to 600 assaults. Statewide, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s effort to collect and test sexual assault kits has resulted in at least 2,285 CODIS hits so far.

In Houston, analysis of about 6,600 untested rape kits resulted in about 850 matches, 29 prosecutions and six convictions.

And, since the Colorado Bureau of Investigation began requiring police statewide to submit sexual assault kits for testing last year, more than 150 matches have been found.

Despite those successes, many police agencies haven’t changed their policies.

In New York state, law enforcement agencies outside of New York City are under no legal requirement to test rape evidence. No state law exists requiring agencies to track how many untested kits are stored in their evidence rooms.

New York is one of 44 states with no law stipulating when police should test rape kits and 34 states that haven’t conducted a statewide inventory. […]

Interviews with law enforcement officials, and a review of police records obtained by USA TODAY, reveal sexual-assault-kit testing is often arbitrary and inconsistent among law enforcement agencies — and even within agencies.

In Jackson, Tenn., for example, notations in evidence records show contradictory reasons as to why rape kits were not tested. In some cases, the Jackson Police Department did not test evidence because the suspect’s identity was already known, records show. In 13 other cases since 1998, records show police decided not to test kits because there was “no suspect” or “no known suspect,” even though testing the kits could help identify a suspect. […]

Some government officials and researchers have faulted police for a predisposition to doubt survivors’ stories.

“The fact is that often rape kits are unsubmitted for testing because of a blame-the-victim mentality or because investigators mistrust the survivor’s story,” Illinois Attorney General Madigan told a U.S. Senate subcommittee at a hearing in May. “This outdated way of thinking must change.”

After more than 10,000 untested sexual assault kits were discovered in Detroit in 2008, a landmark study funded by the Justice Department faulted police for “negative, victim‐blaming beliefs.”

“Rape survivors were often assumed to be prostitutes and therefore what had happened to them was considered to be their own fault,” researchers from Michigan State University wrote in their analysis of Detroit’s rape investigations.

Welcome to rape culture.

A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case: Part Three

[complications arise, as does simplicity]

In the last installment, we calculated the odds of nesting or attempted nesting at site 84744 M.S. to be 92%, based on Hugh’s claim. We also found that daufnie_odie’s claim made us 11% confident in nesting.

Hugh, though, was talking about a different point in time. Our original question only asked if the nesting site had seen a nest or attempted nest, without any other clear bounds. It’s similar to asking “will I ever see heads while flipping this coin;” the more distinct observations we have, the greater the chance of at least one head (or nesting attempt) appearing.

The obvious way to combine these two claims is to consider all the possibilities. If we have two independent events, A and B, then the odds of at least one happening is the sum of the first happening but the second not, the second happening but not the first, and both happening. That isn’t too annoying to add up when we have just two events, but if we use this technique for N events we’ll have to consider 2^N – 1 possibilities. Ouch.

Notice, though, that we’re calculating the probability of every possible observation combination, excluding one: that no events occurred. However, by definition the sum of all probabilities must be one. So if we calculate the odds of that single combination and subtract it from one, we know the sum of the odds for every other combination. We can accomplish 2^N – 1 calculations for the cost of one!

Putting this into practice with our numbers above, we calculate the odds of Hugh being wrong about the nest and the odds of daufnie_odie being wrong, then multiply and subtract that from one, and get 93%. A marginal improvement.

But hold on here; why did I multiply those two together? Let’s pull up a diagram:

Dividing the universe by the accounts of Hugh and daufnie_odieOur goal is to figure out A / (A + B + C + D). We can use a bit of algebra to rewrite that as

image

Oh, there’s our multiplication right there! In English, all we have to do is multiply the odds of daufnie_odie being wrong, by the odds of Hugh being wrong when we assume daufne_odie is wrong.

One problem: we don’t know the odds of the latter, just the odds of Hugh being wrong overall. If those two were dependent events, this could be a big problem, but thankfully they’re independent for our purposes; if we’re calculating the odds of no nest or attempt, we don’t care if two or more people are talking about the same event, we just need them to be wrong about whatever they’re talking about. That means that the vertical partition is exactly as it looks in the diagram, a straight cut across the entire probability space. In math terms, the ratio of A to B is the same as that of C to D, which leads to

image

So as long as we can be confident daufnie_odie’s claim is independent of Hugh’s, we can treat (A + B) / (A + B + C + D) as A / (A + B) and just multiply.

But when we take a closer look at daufnie_odie’s post, we realize we’re missing some key facts. They spoke up after reading another post by Pollock Myerson, wondering if the person who contacted them was the same as the one who contacted Myerson. Hopping over to Myerson’s post, we learn that he was introduced to someone claiming to have spotted a nest by Caroline Puppy, and that later on a third person contacted Myerson to validate the original tale. Again no names are mentioned, but Myerson, Puppy, and the third person make it clear that they know this nest claimant.

Scrolling back, we see someone named Bryant Tompsin claiming to know a witness to an attempted nest. This doesn’t look like the same person that contacted Puppy. There’s also a comment by someone who goes by “maryann”, who claims to have spotted at least an attempted nest; whether this is the same person that Tompsin, Puppy or daufnie_odie referred to isn’t clear, but it’s probably not Hugh under a different name.

Scrolling forward, we also find a few posts where Pauline Gray claims to have seen a Sexualis Asoltenti attempt to nest, but leaves out what nesting site she saw it at. Puppy reappears, claiming that she was told by someone named Dijai Gruthi that there was an attempted nesting at 84744 M.S., a fact she later confirmed with someone else who witnessed the same nesting. By comparing photos and accounts, it becomes probable that Pauline Gray was talking about 84744 M.S., that she saw it at the same time as Gruthi, and that Puppy’s other person is Gray. In the meanwhile, Tompsin reappears and also claims to have heard of the same attempted nesting from Gruthi.

As all that’s sinking in, we flip open the local birding magazine and find still more. Pauline Gray admits she really was talking about 84744 M.S. and that Gruthi was present for the attempted nest; the unnamed person of Myerson outs themselves as Ali Smyth, a local birder; and a well-respected person named Jim Grandie suggests he saw a nest or attempt at one but waved it off as horseplay, something birds do when drunk. Biff Jag confirms he was around shortly after Smyth’s nesting observation, and someone with the handle “skippingthem” mentions they know someone who was also a witness. daufnie_odie posts again, and confirms that the nesting Ali Smyth saw was not the one they were aware of. Finally, we can infer some information from the state of the nesting site; if it remains constant, that would suggest a nesting or attempt was unlikely, and if it shifted over time then it likely was nested in at some point. Myerson had a look at the long-term state of 84744 M.S., and indeed found evidence of shifting.

Working through all these combinations would be a nightmare. Fortunately, we don’t have to. As we only care if at least one nest or attempted nest happened, we can instead calculate the odds of no nesting occurring and then subtract that from one. This is a much simpler task, which we’ll accomplish in the next installment

[HJH 2015-07-19: adding some missing links]

A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case: Part Two

[the fundamentals of the birds and the bees]

Forget all that talk of sexual assault from last time. Instead, pretend I’m an ornithologist.

Wandering past nesting site 84744 M.S. one day, I wonder if a Sexualis Asoltenti has ever flown in and either nested or attempted to nest there. From various studies, I know the odds of that happening are between six and thirteen percent, making it unlikely. Still, I’m just one person; what have other birdwatchers seen? When I get home, I pull up the favourite web forum for local birders and have a look.

I immediately spot a post by Douglas Hugh, who claims to have seen a nesting Sexualis Asoltenti there. What does that do to the odds? Let’s diagram it out.

The entire universe of possible outcomes.This rectangle represents every possible situation: that no nest exists, that it was made of discarded twine, that Wile E. Coyote instead threw an Acme Portable Hole in there, and so on. We can slice that space by partitioning it into two, one side containing all possibilities where the nest was built or attempted, the other containing the inverse.
Partitioning the probabilities into [I should mention these areas aren’t to scale. I’m just focusing on topology here.]

As this rectangle represents every possibility, it also contains scenarios that include Hugh claiming a nest, as well as Hugh not making any such claim. We can further partition the space.

All possibilities partitioned both by whether or not a nest/attempt was made, and whether or not Hugh claims to have seen a nest.[I should also mention that these boundaries aren’t necessarily accurate. Topology, remember. Also, I wrote this a good three weeks before I saw Jamie’s similar post about Bayes’ Theorem over at SkepChick. Scout’s honour!]

Those previous studies I mentioned represent the area of (A + C) divided by the area of (A + B + C + D).

While we may not know the status of the nest, we do know whether or not Hugh made the claim. Areas C and D are contrary to reality, thus should be dropped from this analysis. The odds of a nest or attempted nest is now the area of A divided by the area of (A + B); in English, that’s the number of instances where Hugh claims a nest, and there is one, as compared to the number of instances where he falsely claims there’s a nest there plus the number of true claims.

As luck would have it, we already have a number to substitute in. Prior research puts the odds of a false nesting claim for Sexualis Asoltenti at between 2-8%; this means that the odds of A / (A + B) are about 92-98%. I’ll take the more conservative value, and say 8% of claims are mistaken, fabricated, or something else. Easy enough.

After figuring all that out, I spot a post from someone named “daufnie_odie.” They claim to have heard a birder mention they’d spotted a nest at 84744 M.S.. No name is given, but the context makes it fairly clear they know this person.

We got lucky last time, because that 8% was for cases where someone claimed they saw a nest or attempted nest, which was exactly the scenario we had. No such luck here, plus there’s a layer of indirection we need to account for. Here’s a first attempt at that:

All probabilities, partitioned by whether there was an attempted/actual nest AND daufnie_odie was approached, vs. daufnie_odie making a claim.On our diagram, the odds of “someone genuinely spots a nest or attempt and mentions it to daufnie_odie” corresponds to the areas where daufnie_odie was approached, A and C, divided by all areas, which is (A + C) / (all). As this box represents all possibilities, and has a total area of one, the odds of the negation of the prior claim (specifically, that there was no nesting, or a false claim, or the news never reaching daufnie_odie), is (1 – (A + C) / (all)) or (B + D) / (all).

Even if that original person saw a nest, though, it’s possible they’d never mention it. We know the first probability, so I’ll put the second at… oh… one third, then multiply the two values together to reach the chance of both events happening.

[Why multiplication? I’ll explicitly cover that in part 3, but if you pay real close attention you’ll get a preview below.]

At this point, I bet a number of you are about to quit in disgust. I just pulled that number out of thin air, and doesn’t that taint the whole enterprise?

If that probability is wildly different from reality, it might. Or, it might not. As I pointed out earlier, if we’re testing the bias of a coin and take a few bad tosses, that could throw off the measurement… but only if we only do a dozen throws. If we do a thousand, it’ll have no significant effect on our final results. Likewise, a bad guess among several good ones will be neutralized, and a lot of fuzzy measurements can combine to create a precise one.

Most importantly, we live in an era of cheap computing. I can run a large number of simulations and check how the parameters change over a wide range of values, giving myself a solid idea of how stable the results are. A little fuzziness is no problem, and who knows? My ad-hoc guess could be bang on the money. This is also handy for anyone who disagrees with my numbers; just plug in your own instead and rerun the analysis.

But back to that. We now need to figure out the odds of daufnie_odie publicly stating their claim, assuming they actually were approached. Maybe they’d forget, or be embarrassed by the situation, but that’s highly unlikely (92%-98% of such claims are legitimate, remember), and this person has some protection by being pseudo-anonymous. I’ll make this probability fairly high, say 95% or so. This corresponds to A / (A + C) in the diagram.

There’s also the possibility that daufnie_odie is making the entire thing up. The pseudo-anonymous argument cuts both ways, also arguing that a false claim is more likely. Nonetheless, an anonymous person that’s careless could be tracked down and held accountable for their words. Given all that, let’s put this probability at an even 50/50. Note that this corresponds to B / (B + D).

Now we can calculate A / (A + B). Multiplying the odds of nesting and this person approaching daufnie_odie, with the odds of daufnie_odie sharing the claim with us, nets us A; multiplying the odds of no nesting or daufnie_odie being approached, with the odds of daufnie_odie making the whole thing up, arrives at B. Put A in the denominator, and the sum of (A + B) in the numerator.

The full math behind daufnie_odie's case. Trust me, it's a bit ugly looking.That’s a pain to write out, though. Let’s clean things up with some substitution; we’ll call the claim “there was a nest or attempted nest and daufnie_odie was approached by a witness” by the letter “H”, and daufnie_odie’s stating that happened will become “E”. To denote the opposite of a claim, like “daufnie_odie did not state he knew of nesting,” we’ll put a little mark in front of it; in this case, that’d look like “¬E”. To refer specifically to the probability of X happening, we’ll say “P(X)”, and if we talk about the odds of X happening given Y did happen, we’ll write “P(X | Y)”. With these simplifications, the math translates into

Bayes' Theorem, in binary mode.Whoops, we’ve accidentally derived a simplified version of Bayes’ Theorem. Ah well, either way we’ve calculated an 11% chance that there was a nest or attempted nest, given daufnie_odie’s post (though as you’ll see later, that number’s a bit naive). As we’re partitioning the probability space, that implies an 89% chance there was no nest or attempt at one.

How do we combine these two accounts together? That’s for part 3

[HJH 2015-06-09: Minor edits for clarity.]
[HJH 2015-06-19: Emphasized daufnie_odie’s probability would change later.]
[HJH 2015-07-19: Adding a missing link.]

A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case: Part One

[statistics for the people, and of the people]

I just can’t seem to escape sexual assault. For the span of six months I analysed the Stollznow/Radford case, then finished an examination of Carol Tavris’ talk at TAM2014, so the topic never wandered far from my mind. I’ve bounced my thoughts off other people, sometimes finding support, other times running into confusion or rejection. It’s the latter case that most fascinates me, so I hope you don’t mind if I write my way through the confusion.

The most persistent objection I’ve received goes something like this: I cannot take population statistics and apply them to a specific person. That’s over-generalizing, and I cannot possibly get to a firm conclusion by doing it.

It makes sense on some level. Human beings are wildly different, and can be extremely unpredictable because of that. The field of psychology is scattered with the remains of attempts to bring order to the chaos. However, I’ve had to struggle greatly to reach even that poor level of intellectual empathy, as the argument runs contrary to our every moment of existence. This may be a classic example of talking to fish about water; our unrelenting leaps from the population to the individual seem rare and strange when consciously considered, because these leaps are almost never conscious.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a familiar example.

P1. That object looks like a chair.
P2. Based on prior experience, objects that look like chairs can support my weight.
C1. Therefore, that object can support my weight.

Yep, the Problem of Induction is a classic example of applying the general to the specific. I may have sat on hundreds of chairs in my lifetime, without incident, but that does not prove the next chair I sit on will remain firm. I can even point to instances where a chair did collapse… and yet, if there’s any hesitation when I sit down, it’s because I’m worried about whether something’s stuck to the seat. The worry of the chair collapsing never enters my mind.

Once you’ve had the water pointed out to you, it appears everywhere. Indeed, you cannot do any action without jumping from population to specific.

P1. A brick could spontaneously fly at my head.
P2. Based on prior experience, no brick has ever spontaneously flown at my head.
C1. Therefore, no brick will spontaneously fly at my head.

P1. I’m typing symbols on a page.
P2. Based on prior experience, other people have been able to decode those symbols.
C1. Therefore, other people will decode those symbols.

P1. I want to raise my arm.
P2. Based on prior experience, triggering a specific set of nerve impulses will raise my arm.
C1. Therefore, I trigger those nerve impulses and assume it’ll raise my arm.

“Action” includes the acts of science, too.

P1. I take a measurement with a specific device and a specific calibration.
P2. Based on prior experience, measurements with that device and calibration were reliable.
C1. Therefore, this measurement will be reliable.

Philosophers may view the Problem of Induction as a canyon of infinite width, but it’s a millimetre crack in our day-to-day lives. Not all instances are legitimate, though. Here’s a subtle failure:

P1. This vaccine contains mercury.
P2. Based on prior experience, mercury is a toxic substance with strong neurological effects.
C1. Therefore, this vaccine is a toxic substance with strong neurological effects.

Sure, your past experience may have included horror stories of what happens after chronic exposure to high levels of mercury… but unbeknownst to you, it also included chronic exposure to very low levels of mercury compounds, of varying toxicity, which had no effect on you or anyone else. There’s a stealth premise here: this argument asserts that dosage is irrelevant, something that’s not true but easy to overlook. It’s not hard to come up with similarly flawed examples that are either more subtle (“Therefore, I will not die today”) or less (“Therefore, all black people are dangerous thugs”).

Hmm, maybe this type of argument is unsound when applied to people? Let’s see:

P1. This is a living person.
P2. Based on prior experience, living persons have beating hearts.
C1. Therefore, this living person has a beating heart.

Was that a bit cheap? I’ll try again:

P1. This is a person living in Canada.
P2. Based on prior experience, people living in Canada speak English.
C1. Therefore, this person will speak English.

Now I’m skating onto thin ice. According to StatCan, only 85% of Canadians can speak English, so this is only correct most of the time. Let’s improve on that:

P1. This is a person living in Canada.
P2. Based on prior experience, about 85% of people living in Canada speak English.
C1. Therefore, there’s an 85% chance this person will speak English.

Much better. In fact, it’s much better than anything I’ve presented so far, as it was gathered by professionals in controlled conditions, an immense improvement over my ad-hoc, poorly-recorded personal experience. It also quantifies and puts implicit error bars around what it is arguing. Don’t see how? Consider this version instead:

P1. This is a person living in Canada.
P2. Based on prior experience, about 84.965% of people living in Canada speak English.
C1. Therefore, there’s an 84.965% chance this person will speak English.

The numeric precision sets the implicit error bounds; “about 85%” translates into “from 84.5 to 85.5%.”

Having said all that, it wouldn’t take much effort to track down a remote village in Quebec where few people could talk to me, and the places where I hang out are well above 85% English-speaking. But notice that both are a sub-population of Canada, while the above talks only of Canada as a whole. It’s a solid argument over the domain it covers, but adding more details can change that.

Ready for the next step? It’s a bit scary.

P1. This is a man.
P2. Based on prior experience, between 6 and 62% of men have raped or attempted it.
C1. Therefore, the chance of that man having raped or attempted rape is between 6 and 62%.

Hopefully you can see this is nothing but probability theory at work. The error bars are pretty huge there, but as with the language statistic we can add more details.

P1. This is a male student at a mid-sized, urban commuter university in the United States with a diverse student body.
P2. Based on prior experience, about 6% of such students have raped or attempted it.
C1. Therefore, the odds of that male student having raped or attempted rape is about 6%.

We can do much better, though, by continuing to pile on the evidence we have and watching how the probabilities shift around. Interestingly, we don’t even need to be that precise with our numbers; if there’s sufficient evidence, they’ll converge on an answer. One flip of a coin tells you almost nothing about how fair the process is, while a thousand flips taken together tells you quite a lot (and it isn’t pretty). Even if the numbers don’t come to a solid conclusion, that still might be OK; you wouldn’t do much if there was a 30% chance your ice cream cone started melting before you could lick it, but you would take immediate action if there was a 30% chance of a meteor hitting your house. Fuzzy answers can still justify action, if the consequences are harsh enough and outweigh the cost of getting it wrong.

So why not see what answers we can draw from a sexual assault case? Well, maybe because discussing sexual assault is a great way to get sued, especially when the accused in question is rumoured to be very litigious.

So instead, let’s discuss birds

[HJH 2015-07-19: Changed a link to point to the correct spot.]

EvoPsych, the PoMo-iest of them all

One last thing.

Feminism comes under fire for being “post-modernist,” a sort of loosy-goosy subject which allows for all sorts of contradictions and disconnects from reality. Evolutionary Psychology is held up as being on much firmer ground, in contrast. What is EvoPsych, exactly? Let’s ask David Buss, the most-cited researcher in the field:

  1. Manifest behavior depends on underlying psychological mechanisms, information processing devices housed in the brain, in conjunction with the external and internal inputs — social, cultural, ecological, physiological — that interact with them to produce manifest behavior;
  2. Evolution by selection is the only known causal process capable of creating such complex organic mechanisms (adaptations);
  3. Evolved psychological mechanisms are often functionally specialized to solve adaptive problems that recurred for humans over deep evolutionary time;
  4. Selection designed the information processing of many evolved psychological mechanisms to be adaptively influenced by specific classes of information from the environment;
  5. Human psychology consists of a large number of functionally specialized evolved mechanisms, each sensitive to particular forms of contextual input, that get combined, coordinated, and integrated with each other and with external and internal variables to produce manifest behavior tailored to solving an array
    of adaptive problems.

This is already off to a bad start, as Myers has pointed out in another context.

complex traits are the product of selection? Come on, John [Wilkins], you know better than that. Even the creationists get this one right when they argue that there may not be adaptive paths that take you step by step to complex innovations, especially not paths where fitness doesn’t increase incrementally at each step. Their problem is that they don’t understand any other mechanisms at all well (and they don’t understand selection that well, either), so they think it’s an evolution-stopper — but you should know better.

But I’m not really here to push back on that line. It’s these bits further on that intrigue me:

These basic tenets render it necessary to distinguish between “evolutionary psychology” as a meta-theory for psychological science and “specific evolutionary hypotheses” about particular phenomena, such as conceptual proposals about aggression, resource control, or particular strategies of human mating. Just as the bulk of scientific research in the field of non-human behavioral ecology tests specific hypotheses about evolved mechanisms in animals, the bulk of scientific research in evolutionary psychology tests specific hypotheses about evolved psychological mechanisms in humans, hypotheses about byproducts of adaptations, and occasionally hypotheses about noise (e.g., mutations). […]

Evolutionary psychology is a meta-theoretical paradigm that provides a synthesis of modern principles of evolutionary biology with modern understandings of psychological mechanisms as information processing devices (Buss 1995b; Tooby and Cosmides 1992). Within this meta-theoretical paradigm, there are at least four distinct levels of analysis — general evolutionary theory, middle-level evolutionary theories, specific evolutionary hypotheses, and specific predictions derived from those hypotheses (Buss 1995b). In short, there is no such thing as “evolutionary psychology theory,” nor is there “the” evolutionary psychological hypothesis about any particular phenomenon.

Wait, EvoPsych is a “meta-theoretical paradigm?” That would place it above theories like Quantum Chromodynamics, Plate Tectonics, Evolution, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and Logotherapy. Buss appears to consider EvoPsych more like Physics or Psychology, categories that we’ve drawn around certain sets of theories. But “Physics” the category makes no claim about how the world works. You can’t derive General Relativity from Physics, photons from “the way material and energy evolve.” Categories are just labels. The fact that Buss could list five assertions of EvoPsych means it is not a label, though, but a theory after all.

Buss is speaking in word salad! But he’s a major figure in EvoPsych, oft-cited and with decades of experience.

I’ve already explained how Evolutionary Psychology is based on a deep misunderstanding of evolution, but it really has nothing to do with psychology, either: where do they reference contemporary psychoanalysis? Scan over Buss’ deep summary, and you won’t see any mention of Behaviorism, Kohiberg’s Moral Development, or Attachment Theory. EvoPsych was not created by psychologists, nor does it draw from their theories; instead, it was created by biologists like Robert Trivers or E.O. Wilson, working with simplified mathematical models and personal observation. It doesn’t consider what people are thinking, and despite claiming otherwise Buss will go on to show his true colours:

Three articles in this special issue attempt to provide empirical evidence, some new and some extracted from the existing empirical literature, pertaining to one of the nine hypotheses of Sexual Strategies Theory — that gender differences in minimal levels of obligate parental investment should lead short-term mating to represent a larger component of men’s than women’s sexual strategies. This hypothesis derives straightforwardly from Trivers’s (1972) theory of parental investment, which proposed that the sex that invested less in offspring (typically, but not always males), tends to evolve adaptations to be more competitive with members of their own sex for sexual access to the more valuable members of the opposite sex.

So EvoPsych is a biology theory that doesn’t understand basic biology, and a psychological theory developed independent of psychology.

The lack of coherency bleeds through the entire project: an EvoPsych textbook is a parade of tiny “specific evolutionary hypotheses,” disconnected from one another. This makes them easily discarded and interchanged, like chess pawns protecting the king. David Buss once said aggression in women did not exist, and wasn’t worthy of study, but two decades on was studying it and argued they were equally aggressive but differed in the kinds of aggression they showed. Buss will flatly assert hunting requires mental rotation skill, gathering requires spatial memory skill, and therefore the sex differences in those skills are due to sexual selection over time. Consider this theory instead:

It’s probable humans typically hunted small game, since setting up snares is easy and cheap, as is killing a pinned animal. Effectively capturing a lot of food required not only setting out many traps, though, but remembering where they were.

In contrast, plant food tends to stay in one place, and over time well-worn foot paths would develop between food spots. This made navigation easy, so long as you could memorize and rotate angles effectively to remember which path you came from. As plants tend to bloom seasonally, you’d also need to keep track of time. Star calendars and constellations were the obvious choice, but in order to read them you had to be able to cope with rotated shapes.

Based on the observed sex differences, and assuming they were the result of sexual selection, women must have been the hunters in prehistoric societies, while men were delegated to do the gathering.

The conclusion is completely at odds with what most EvoPsych researchers propose, yet it uses their exact same methods. Merely by shifting the focus around, I can easily come up with theories that contradict EvoPsych claims. As EvoPsych is a “meta-theory,” though, falsifying every single “specific evolutionary hypothesis” would fail to falsify it. EvoPsych is thus unfalsifiable, even though it makes empirically-testable assertions about human evolution!

Feminism, in contrast, is much more like Physics. It too is a category, defined as the study and removal of sexism.

But what constitutes sexism? Early theorists proposed Patriarchy theory, that society is structured to disproportionately favor men. Starting the 1970’s, though, a number of people began arguing for a role-based or performative view: society creates gender roles that we’re expected to conform to, whatever our sex, gender, or sexuality. This might seem to contradict the prior view, as men can now be the victim of sexism, but it’s no worse than what you see in harder sciences. Aristotle thought everything was attracted to the centre of the universe; Newton thought objects had mass, which attracted other objects with mass through an all-pervasive force; Einstein thought everything traveled in straight lines, it’s just that mass bends space and gives the appearance of a force. All three are radically different in detail, but they all give the same general prediction: things fall to Earth. Likewise, both Patriarchy and role-based theories differ in detail, but agree in general. This makes Feminism-the-category coherent, as there’s substantial overlap between all the theories it contains. There’s something tangible there, which no amount of theory-churn removes.

EvoPsych is a theory masquerading as a “meta-theory,” making specific assertions about the world yet denying it is falsifiable. Practitioners propose an endless stream of “specific evolutionary hypotheses,” which are only coherent with each other because they’re heavily influenced by the cultural experience of the people making them. It is far more post-modern than feminism, but because it goes easy on the jargon it doesn’t appear that way at first blush.

[HJH 2015/03/25: Added the following]

Hmmm, having mulled this over for a day, I think those last few paragraphs were grasping at something I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time. I think I have it securely pinned now.

Simple question: can you describe performative theory without referring to feminism? Sure, I’ve done it already: “society creates gender roles that we’re expected to conform to, whatever our sex, gender, or sexuality.” Categories are simplifications; if we were to recursively define “the study and removal of sexism” to ever-greater degrees, at some level we’d start describing performative theory.

Now, can you describe Sexual Strategies Theory without referring to EvoPsych’s five core tenants? Nope, because it depends on mind modules, hyper-adaptationalism, and the rest of Buss’ list to make any sense. EvoPsych isn’t a meta-theory to SST, it’s a sub-theory, a lemma. It’s not a simplification or over-arching category, because even if we clarified all the core parts to an arbitrary degree, SST wouldn’t pop out.

Even more confusingly, Parental Investment theory is neither a category containing EvoPsych (as there’s no mind modules buried in there) nor a sub-theory of EvoPsych (because it doesn’t depend on mind modules to make sense). It’s not part of the paradigm at all, even though it helped spawn the field via a paper of Robert Trivers and is frequently cited by researchers.

Buss could make a better case for SST being a “meta-theoretical paradigm,” yet he thinks it’s a part of EvoPsych. It’s more evidence the guy has no clue what he’s saying.

It’s About Ethics in Biomedical Research

I’m a bit surprised this didn’t get more play. From what I hear, Pinker has some beef with bioethics.

Biomedical research, then, promises vast increases in life, health, and flourishing. Just imagine how much happier you would be if a prematurely deceased loved one were alive, or a debilitated one were vigorous — and multiply that good by several billion, in perpetuity. Given this potential bonanza, the primary moral goal for today’s bioethics can be summarized in a single sentence.

Get out of the way.

A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as “dignity,” “sacredness,” or “social justice.” Nor should it thwart research that has likely benefits now or in the near future by sowing panic about speculative harms in the distant future.

This path leads to very dark places. I’ll quote a summary I wrote of Blumenthal (2004).[1]

Booker T. Washington had an ambitious plan around the turn of the century, of rapidly advancing the health and welfare of African Americans in that city. His Tuskegee Institute revived agriculture in the South, build schools and business alliances, created a self-sustaining architectural program, and developed a Black-owned-and-operated hospital.

It also took a keen interest in health issues, and after World War I it faced a major crisis in syphilis. Soldiers returning home led to a dramatic spike in cases, and as of 1926 as many as 36% of everyone within the surrounding Macon County were infected. The best cure, at the time, was a six-week regimen of toxic drugs with a depressing 30% success rate. Something had to be done.

A short study of six to eight months was proposed, the idea being to track the progression of the disease in African-Americans and learn more about it, then administer treatment. It got full approval of the government, health officials, and local leaders in the African-American community. Substantial outreach was done to bring in patients, explain what the disease was, and even give them free rides to reach the clinic.

But then… circumstances changed. The newly appointed leader of the project, Dr. Raymond Vonderlehr, became fascinated with how syphilis changed people’s bodies. The Great Depression hit, and as of 1933 there wasn’t a lot of money available for treatment. So Vonderlehr decided to make the study longer, and provide less than the recommended treatment. He also faced the problem of getting subjects to agree to the toxic treatments and painful diagnostic tools, but that was easily solved: stretch the truth, just a bit. Those spinal taps they used to diagnose syphilis spread to the neural system became “free special treatment,” even though no actual treatment was done. Disaster struck when other scientists discovered the first effective cure, penicillin; elaborate “procedures” were developed to keep the patients from getting their hands on the drug, even if other infectious diseases threatened their lives.

And the entire time, the project had the full support of the government, and published their results openly.

After the entire incident exploded in the press, a commission of experts were formed to advise the US government on bioethical legislation. The result was the Belmont Report, and one of the three core principals it rested on was

Justice. — Who ought to receive the benefits of research and bear its burdens? This is a question of justice, in the sense of “fairness in distribution” or “what is deserved.” […]

Questions of justice have long been associated with social practices such as punishment, taxation and political representation. Until recently these questions have not generally been associated with scientific research. However, they are foreshadowed even in the earliest reflections on the ethics of research involving human subjects. For example, during the 19th and early 20th centuries the burdens of serving as research subjects fell largely upon poor ward patients, while the benefits of improved medical care flowed primarily to private patients. […]

Against this historical background, it can be seen how conceptions of justice are relevant to research involving human subjects. For example, the selection of research subjects needs to be scrutinized in order to determine whether some classes (e.g., welfare patients, particular racial and ethnic minorities, or persons confined to institutions) are being systematically selected simply because of their easy availability, their compromised position, or their manipulability, rather than for reasons directly related to the problem being studied. Finally, whenever research supported by public funds leads to the development of therapeutic devices and procedures, justice demands both that these not provide advantages only to those who can afford them and that such research should not unduly involve persons from groups unlikely to be among the beneficiaries of subsequent applications of the research.

Ignoring social justice concerns in biomedical research led to things like the Tuskegee experiment. The scientific establishment has since tried to correct that by making it a critical part. Pinker would be wise to study the history a bit more carefully, here.

But don’t just take my word for it. Others have also called him out, like Matthew Beard

Let’s put aside the fact that one paragraph later Pinker casts doubt on our ability to make accurate predictions at all. Because there is an interesting question here.

Let’s assume that hand-wringing ethicists slow progress that cures diseases. As a result, animals aren’t subjected to painful experiments, patients’ autonomy is respected, and “justice” is upheld. At the same time, lots of people died who could otherwise have been saved. Surely, Pinker suggests, this is unethical.

Only under a certain framework, known as utilitarianism, in which the right action is the one that does the most good. And even then, only under certain conditions. For instance, although some research might have saved more lives without ethical constraints, Pinker wants all oversight removed.

Thus, even bad research will operate without ethical restraint. For each pioneering piece of research that saves lives there will be much more insignificant research. And each of these insignificant items will also entail ethical breaches. This makes Pinker’s utilitarian matrix much harder to compute.

… and Wesley J. Smith.

These general principles [than Pinker excludes] are essential to maintaining a moral medical research sector! Indeed, without them, we would easily slouch into a crass utilitarianism that would blatantly treat some human beings as objects instead of subjects.

Bioethics is actually rife with such proposals. For example, one research paper published in a respected journal proposed using unconscious patients as “living cadavers” to test the safety of pig-to-human organ xenotransplantation.

The best defences of Pinker I’ve seen ignored the bit where he dismissed “social justice” and pretended he was discussing less basic things. It doesn’t reflect well on Pinker.


[1] Blumenthal, Daniel S., and Ralph J. DiClemente, eds. Community-based health research: issues and methods. Springer publishing company, 2004. pg. 48-53